Prison Inmates and Hard-to-Adopt Shelter Dogs a Perfect Match

Everyone makes mistakes. A rough background and stress can make people and pups react poorly in a moment or learn bad habits over time that can be hard to break. Perhaps that’s why there seems to be such an affinity and even a tenderness between inmates and shelter dogs that are paired with each other in programs designed to teach both humans and animals valuable tools for living in society with improved socialization and marketable skills.

A Cultural Change in Prisons

Over and over, we see stories of inmates without hope, with nothing to live for, because they feel they had no purpose, and nothing to contribute to society. This hopelessness contributes to a rough survivalist attitude. Conversely, when these inmate/shelter-dog programs are introduced, suddenly there is a creature that the inmates are responsible for. Now a person has a partner to learn life skills to live successfully in society, and the stakes are high to ensure success for both parties.

Just as pets in the workplace are being recognized as decreasing stress and improving morale and productivity, incarceration facilities are finding that animals seem to have a healthy effect on the culture of prisons. Detention centers that have implemented these animal training programs often report fewer fights among prisoners and better morale. There is also more positive interaction between inmates and prison guards.

Many of these programs offer training to the inmates on how to treat and train animal which not only helps socialize the animals for improved adoptability, but also gives the inmates a marketable skill that can be used after release. These skills can also translate to better social skills for the inmates as well as they become mindful of what constitutes acceptable pet behaviors. These concepts are solidified as they teach dogs to achieve their Canine Good Citizen certificates. These skills can mean the difference between life and death for a dog and can make the difference in recidivism rates for offenders.

A Resource for Training Service Dogs

Some programs offer training to teach dogs how to be service dogs for those that are disabled or have invisible physical ailments such as seizures or diabetes. For example, dogs can be trained to sit on the chest of an autistic child to help calm an over-sensitized reaction. Training the dogs with these life-enhancing skills is a valuable service that inspires hope not only for an inmate, but also for people who often wait years and have to raise thousands of dollars to get a service dog. These programs are a positive, cost-effective alternative for people who many not have access to a service dog otherwise.

Prison animal programs, most involving dogs, sometimes cats, or horses are operating in at least 159 prisons in 36 states. Although some have been cut because of concerns about cost, surely the advantages are immeasurable.

For more information and a touching video, please visit:

Prison pups: Dog training program changed his life, says inmate

6 thoughts on “Prison Inmates and Hard-to-Adopt Shelter Dogs a Perfect Match

  1. I have seen this program on Discovery, and it has changed the culture in so many facilities, because they (inmates) have to be a model inmate, meaning no “write ups” from fights, etc., so the inmates work hard at being eligible to be enrolled. One of the reasons that I believe changes the inmate, is that they learn what unconditional love is. So many inmates may have never been loved, or loved themselves, and these dogs teach them that. They also learn that the dog mirrors their behavior, so when they have challenges with the dog, they are taught how the dog responds to how they are treated by the inmate. This may seem basic to us, but to an inmate that may have been in trouble all their lives, this may be a “light bulb” moment. I wish that all of these institutions would implement this program, because as you stated, the recidivism rate goes down drastically! …as well as assisting these people become a better person in general.

    • It does seem like a wonderful idea. I just hope people continue to support it with their dollars. I would hate to see these programs get cut. They should be expanded! It’s a great insight about the sensitivity of dogs moods and how they reflect and sense what their humans feel, but I didn’t think about it encouraging the inmate to learn how to monitor themselves in order to keep their furry friend relaxed.

  2. I think this is a wonderful concept and in this holiday season it reminds me of the old Rudolph the Red Nosed Raindeer animated special (the one narrated by Burl Ives) where Rudolph helps to rescue the “unique” toys from the Isle of Misfit Toys knowing that someone would appreciate them and that they only want to be loved and simply need to be given the opportunity. It seems to me this is a prime example of a win-win situation and that all animal shelters should be seeking out these types of relationships as should all prison systems including those housing juveniles.

    • I love the holiday reference! I won’t watch that movie without thinking of your insight. It’s so true! And it’s a great idea to expand the program to juvenile offenders as well. Thanks!

  3. I think its a great program! Well-behaved inmates have a purpose and these great companions have a second chance, otherwise they would have to be put down. It does teach these inmates what having a true friend means and these doggies get a human all to themselves!

    • It’s pretty awesome, the power of unconditional love. I loved the video link. The inmate is just complete mush when it comes to talking about the dogs he’s trained. He’s been transformed!

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